Ken Abrahams marvels at the caring, commitment – and energy – of Rabbi Max Davis, 29, the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Torah in Longmeadow since last August.
“If we have home-bound members, he cooks a meal for them, and the next day he is out skateboarding with three of our teenagers,” Abrahams laughed.
Rabbi Davis will be formally installed as spiritual leader of B’nai Torah on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 3 p.m. at B’nai Torah, 2 Eunice Drive. The guest speakers at the installment are two of the biggest names in the Orthodox world – Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg.
Rabbi Weiss is the founder and president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York – from where Rabbi Davis received his semicha – and senior rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, N.Y. “He is not just my mentor, he married my wife and me,” Davis said.
Rabbi Greenberg is a scholar and theologian and was founding president of CLAL-The National Jewish Cener for Learning and Leadership.
“I am very grateful to them for coming, I don’t have the words to express it,” Rabbi Davis added.
Also being honored at the installment will be Dalia Davis, Rabbi Davis’ wife, who since they arrived in Longmeadow has taught classes at the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, offered Israeli folk dance classes, and worked with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Voices & Visions project.
“He is a dynamite rabbi,” Abrahams said. “He has so much energy and he is so humble. He cares for each of our members, whether it is from a halachic point of view, a kashruth point of view or just being a good friend. He is a remarkable guy.
“But even more important is that he has a wife, and the phrase that I use is, ‘His wife is his rabbi.’ They are just a great, great team. Their home is a second home for many of our members. We are so fortunate in our community to have such a dynamic team.”
Abrahams said that one of Rabbi Davis’s accomplishments has been bringing the congregation even closer together.
“Since we combined our three synagogues, it has been a long time since we could all say, ‘This is my rabbi.’ And I think everybody is very sincere about that. He is everybody’s rabbi. He understands the differences between the three congregations and how we are trying to be one.”
Rabbi Davis was born in Brookline, Mass. He was raised in a Conservative household, attending Solomon Schechter of Greater Boston and Maimonides High School. He became Orthodox in high school.
“Through study and long discussion and thought I ended up gravitating toward Modern Orthodox circles,” he explained.
After high school he studied for a year at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Israel.
Did he always want to be a rabbi?
“Absolutely not,” he laughed.
In college, he studied city planning. “I thought that I would go into some sort of urban design or city planning. Then I found out it wasn’t as simple as just determining where you are going to put an airport and where you are going to put a power plant. I still love it as a field.”
He served as a seasonal park ranger in Boston, giving tours of Freedom Trail.
But the rabbinate beckoned.
“The whole time I was in college I was teaching and tutoring in Hebrew schools and I was involved at Hillel. My senior year I was considering going into a program for a masters in Jewish education and Yeshivat Covevei Torah came through recruiting…I knew a few people who were in the yeshiva and I admired them personally and what they were doing with their lives. I admired the philosophy of the yeshiva and thought it would be an opportunity to do something where, if I were fortunate I could look back in later years and feel like I had done something positive for other people.”
After internships at the National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. and Rikers Island Detention Center, he was ordained and then served as assistant rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, Calif.
Last year, he, Dalia and their daughter, Revaya, returned to Massachusetts where his parents and sister still live. “I was looking to be in a location where our daughter could have better access to her grandparents, but it also had to be a good fit.”
There were other congregations on the East Coast that he spoke with, “but this one just felt like the best fit…the breadth of experience that this position would offer, and I think the people – there are a lot of kind hearts in this community, a lot of people who are very passionate about their observance and their synagogue.”
“The Rabbi’s sincerity and enthusiasm is inspiring,” said B’nai Torah member Sydney Torrey, and a member of the installment committee. “He is diplomatic, but at the same time he stands up for what he thinks is right. He answers questions –no matter how trivial – with patience and respect. Both he and his charming and talented wife, Dalia, have endeared themselves to the community and are a great asset to B’nai Torah.”
Now going into his second year in Longmeadow, Rabbi Davis wants to build on to the work he has accomplished since arriving.
“We are always trying to grow the shul in terms of membership; we are going to make a push in terms of youth programming for next year – programming during the week as well as on Shabbat. We are fortunate to have a guide and a mentor in this regard, Yehuda Edry. I am always looking to broaden the reach of some of the classes here, to find out what people would like to focus on and study together. I am thinking of shaking up some of the classes I have been offering the last year.”
“Rabbi Davis is smart, witty and engaging,” said Meredith Dragon, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. “He is a pleasure to work with and he cares deeply about the Orthodox community and the entire community and he has brought a depth and passion about Judaism that is extraordinary. He is a great colleague.”
Rabbi Max Davis will be installed at Congregation B’nai Torah on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 3 p.m. A dessert reception will be held following the ceremony. For more information, call B’nai Torah at (413) 567-0036.